My knee has turned against Russell Martin. He comes up with the bases loaded, a golden opportunity for the golden boy of the Dodger organization, but my knee barks, "double play". That jerk, my knee. It's betraying the rest of me that believes Martin can get a hit, his first of the season. "Double Play!" There's only one out, and it would end the inning. He's done it before --- grounder, flip, throw --- more times than any of us would like. "Admit it," barks my knee. I'm openly talking about a possible double play now, as I watch the game with my wife. My knee jerk has taken over. The little hammer of pessimism has struck. "DOUBLE PLAY!"
I can feel it. The Dodgers are entering one of those stretches. The kind that consumed the team whole at the beginning of last August, when their toothless offense gummed them to death. They let Germano off the hook, with his readable changeup, his minor league fastball. I think dark thoughts for the plate umpire and his unfriendly calls, and other dark thoughts for the hugeness of Petco, but mostly I just lament the Dodgers inability to get the clutch hit. "Timely hitting!" a cliche of a baseball analyst yammers on TV. Defense and pitching and clutch hitting. But above all things, clutch hitting. I don't care if it doesn't really exist, in any measurable sense. The Dodgers still need it. Even just one. One clutch hit. With the bases loaded. By the golden catcher. Please? "Double Play!" my knee barks grimly.
It was the seventh inning, in a 1-1 tie, and relief pitcher Thatcher was on the ropes, jabbed and harried by his own wildness, bases loaded on walks, one to the pitcher even, but he still had the magic sidearm pitch, the pitch that would come in low and seduce the batter into hitting a lovely little two-hopper to the shortstop, easy flip to second and throw to first, a double play. Kemp already did the ground ball thing. And beat the throw, but no matter. The umpires are against us today. Fate is against us. The Dodgers are so patient, a mirror of their manager, or at least the idea of their manager that I have in my mind. Torre, the wise master, patient and zen-like, a Phil Jackson for baseball. Later in the game Torre's players will induce a 200th pitch from the Padre pitchers. "What sound does a two-hundreth pitch make in a cavernous ballpark?" goes the little known baseball zen koan. But now, in the moment of the game, when it will all be decided, patience is not enough. There are no clutch walks. Well, there could be. Martin is up, he's patient, he could walk and bring in a run, in theory. Yeah, the pitcher IS wild. But more likely he would watch strike three go by, the way he's already done at least once before this season. He has to hit the ball. But he doesn't have a hit yet in the season, not one. It seems too much to think he could get his first one here, to break open the game and give Kuroda the lead, a real lead. I want to see it so bad.
Kuroda had pitched such a good debut up to that point, when the game was on Martin's bat. But even in the middle of Kuroda's run of excellence and efficiency my dark pessimistic side couldn't resist a little dig at him. After he got the first eight Padres out I said to my wife, "I can't tell you how many times I've seen a pitcher get the first eight batters and then allow the opposing pitcher to be his first baserunner." Once the count got to 1-2 I reversed myself and confidently said it wouldn't happen this time. Too little, too late. Germano got his little fly ball hit, and thereafter I thought I knew how things would turn out. My knee was twitchy, ready for mischief and dark thoughts. That jerk.
When Martin hit the ball, I thought the second baseman would get it. Just like his previous well-ripped ball that Greene caught. I was SO sure the second baseman would get it that I initially thought it had gone off his glove and then into the outfield. But it was just a base hit. A clean, beautiful base hit. Two runs, not two outs. My knee jerk went quiet. It won't always be double plays and line-outs. The Dodgers are full of talented players. The hits will come, the wins will come, more often than the losses. I hope my knee remembers that.